Wrestling in the larger venue of Newman Arena instead of the Friedman Center meant higher stakes were at play for Cornell wrestling, both on the mat for the team and in the bleachers for the fans. The boys in red rose to the occasion and left their mark on a higher ranked Ohio St. squad, taking the NWCA Nationals Dual by a score of 19-18.
Several key wrestlers, including seniors Dylan Palacio (157), Brian Realbuto (174) and Gabe Dean (184), all handled their opponents, with Palacio landing the lone major decision for Cornell. But it was the heavyweight backup Jeramy Sweany (285) who eventually propelled Cornell to the upset victory over its opponent from Columbus.
“We just wrestled really well,” said head coach Rob Koll. “We’re right where we want to be.”
Highlighted by the comeback over a tough Ohio St. squad, the team’s grit came to life on Sunday.
“We are a team that rises to the occasion, and it showed today,” Realbuto said. “It is a culture that we have been creating — being able to dig deep and come out in a match that means a lot.”
“We have a stingy group of guys,” Dean added.
Noah Baughman got the action started at 125 pounds, taking on nationally-ranked No. 16 Jose Rodriguez. Throughout his first season in a Cornell singlet, Baughman has been rather streaky. He traded wins and losses throughout most of the campaign’s beginning, then hit a rut, losing five-straight decisions stemming from the beginning of January.
Since then, Baughman has won seven straight, including his 4-0 upset win over the redshirt Rodriguez in front of the packed Newman Arena.
Baughman and Rodriguez had meet before, when the Ohio St. wrestler took a major decision from Baughman at the Las Vegas invitational in early December. But on Sunday, there was a different, more special fan in the crowd for the freshman.
“Noah’s girlfriend was here, so we were pretty sure he was going to wrestle well, or else she was done with him,” Koll joked. “That’s exactly what we told him, and it seemed to work, so we have to make sure she comes back next year.”
Baughman got Cornell out to the early 3-0 lead. But after that, the Buckeyes took the next three decisions and jumped out to their own 14-3 lead. That was when the Red’s most dependable wrestlers took the mat, including the three aforementioned seniors and sophomore Brandon Womack (165).
The primetime showdown of the afternoon came between No. 3 Realbuto and his challenger, No. 1 Bo Jordan — undefeated in the 2016-17 season. That is, however, until Realbuto was done with him.
The senior from Somers, N.Y., won a low-scoring bout by a 3-2 decision. It was a pump of energy for his teammates, who would go one to lose only one more decision en route to victory.
“I knew I had the No. 1 guy,” he said. “I just tried to get my job done for the team to try and get that team win.”
“I don’t know if [the win] mattered [for his confidence],” Koll said. “Brian is very confident. If he lost a match he still would feel like he could win a national championship. That’s why he is as good as he is.”
Dean kept the Cornell momentum alive with a 10-5 decision over No. 10 Myles Martin, the defending champion at 174. Dean had a near pin for quite a while, but never got the call. Regardless, the all-American and two-time NCAA champion continued his undefeated season and sits at 27-0 on the year.
Then, it was Sweany’s turn to take the mat, and the sophomore who had appeared in 17 matches on the year took a 4-0 decision over Josh Fox that solidified the Red’s comeback win.
Now, Cornell has a few weeks to rest and prepare before the team travels to Bucknell for the EIWA tournament in March. Despite not being a match with the greatest of implications, the win over Ohio St. Sunday highlights the progress Koll’s program has made since its first contest against Buffalo.
In that match back on Nov. 11, Cornell took only half of the decisions in a narrow 18-15 win over the Bulls. And now, “[we] won six out of 10 against a top team in the country. We are going to go into [EIWAs] with the right mindset,” Koll said.
Cornell’s defense of its EIWA title and quest for 11th straight begins on March 3 from Lewisburg.
“Everyone is fighting hard, and you can’t ask more than that,” Dean said. “Now we have to peak.”
“This is the most fun part of the season,” Realbuto added. “Right now it’s just refining … just making those incremental gains that are going to make a difference come NCAAs.”